A traffic stop is considered to be a Terry stop and, as such, is a seizure by police; the standard set by the United States Supreme Court in Terry v. Ohio regarding temporary detentions requires only reasonable articulable suspicion that a crime has occurred or is about to occur. Traffic stops can be initiated at any time during the detention and arrest process, ranging from stops prior to arrest or issuance of a ticket for violation based on probable cause:
Traffic stops may be executed upon reasonable articulable suspicion that a crime has occurred, which can range from an observation of a possible equipment violation to suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI) based on driving behavior. In some jurisdictions, general roadblock checkpoints are applied for random checks of driver. A primary purpose of the traffic stop at this point is frequently to determine if the police have probable cause for arrest. At this stage, the police are not required to issue a Miranda warning, because a traffic stop prior to formal arrest is not consider to be custodial under Miranda, and will often ask questions intended to elicit the suspect to provide answers that may be used as evidence in the event of an arrest.
Non-evidentary testing falls under this stage because implied consent laws in the US generally do not apply to Preliminary Breath Test (PBT) testing (small handheld devices, as opposed to evidential breath test devices). (For some violations, such as refusals by commercial drivers or by drivers under 21 years of age, some US jurisdictions may impose implied consent consequences for a PBT refusal, but these are generally not considered to be a refusals under the general "implied consent" laws. Participation in "field sobriety tests" (FSTs or SFSTs) is voluntary in the US.
Probable cause is the arrest stage in which sufficient evidence is available to sustain a warrant for arrest. Probable cause is a stronger standard of evidence than a reasonable suspicion, but weaker than what is required to secure a criminal conviction. In some cases, notably DUI stops, the "sufficient evidence" is used for requiring an evidentiary chemical test (e.g., evidential breathalyzer test) by invoking an implied consent request. While state terminology regarding whether evidentiary testing is an "arrest", such testing is Constitutionally a "search incident to arrest".
A stop is usually accomplished through a process known as "pulling over" the suspect's vehicle. Police vehicles (except those used by undercover personnel) traditionally have sirens, loudspeakers, and lightbars that rotate or flash. These devices are used by the officer to get the attention of the suspect and to signal that they are expected to move over to the shoulder and stop. Failure to comply could result in citation of failure to yield to an emergency vehicle and possibly raise suspicion that the driver is attempting to flee.
Similar alerting devices are also typically equipped on other emergency vehicles such as fire trucks and ambulances, although police departments often use blue lights to signal drivers to pull over. In all cases, such signals and the laws requiring that other vehicles pull to the shoulder allow the emergency vehicles to pass other traffic safely and efficiently when responding to emergency situations. In the case of a traffic stop, the officer pulls the patrol vehicle behind the subject vehicle as it stops instead of proceeding past as he or she would during other emergency responses.
Depending upon the severity of the offense which the officer believes to have occurred, the officer may either arrest the suspect, by taking him or her to jail, or check for any outstanding warrants before issuing a citation also called a notice to appear or summons in some jurisdictions, which is essentially a traffic ticket. In some cases, officers may choose to simply issue a verbal or written warning.
Many states have enacted laws requiring freeway traffic approaching the police vehicle to merge over to the left, leaving an entire lane as a buffer zone for the officer.
A "felony" or "high-risk" traffic stop occurs when police stop a vehicle which they have strong reason to believe contains a driver or passenger suspected of having committed a serious crime, especially of a nature that would lead the police to believe the suspects may be armed (such as an armed robbery, assault with a weapon, or an outstanding felony warrant for the registered owner). In a high risk stop, officers attempt to provide their own safety by issuing instructions to maintain absolute control over every step of the proceedings.
They will have additional officers on scene for back-up, often waiting for additional officers to join up before initiating the stop. They will typically have their weapons drawn, and stay back from the suspect vehicle, using their patrol cars for cover. If there is no choice but to make the stop on a busy street, then they will often stop traffic. They will address the driver and any passengers over the PA speaker of the patrol car, typically instructing the driver to turn the engine off, remove the keys from the ignition, and sometimes toss them out the window. They will instruct the occupants, one at a time, to exit the vehicle with empty hands showing, place their hands on top of or behind their heads, walk backwards some distance, and then lie flat on the ground, where they will remain until all occupants have done likewise, at which point officers will move up, apply handcuffs, do a body search and then secure the suspects in the patrol cars. The vehicle is then typically searched for weapons and other evidence in accordance with the arresting department's standard operating procedures ("S.O.P.'s").
The Supreme Court has held that an officer who stops a vehicle as part of a routine traffic stop has the authority to order the driver to exit the vehicle, as well as to order any passengers to exit the vehicle.
The Federal Government in the United States has long used local traffic enforcement as a tool to further its goals through providing funding and training. Historically, this goal has been drug interdiction, but this has been expanded to include the War on Terror. Currently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in cooperation with two agencies in the United States Department of Justice (the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the National Institute of Justice) actively promote a program called Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACTS) which provides training to local police forces to combine traffic enforcement with fighting crime. In the past, such approaches have been accused of promoting racial profiling.
In the United States, traffic stops have been criticized for their use in police dragnets to check compliance with laws such as those requiring the use of seat belts or those prohibiting driving while impaired. Some people have objected that the tactic violates the United States Constitution; the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights, contains a provision against unreasonable search and seizure. However, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that a motor vehicle is subject to a diminished expectation of privacy as compared to a home. Reasons include the fact that motor vehicles are typically driven on public streets, that said vehicles are generally subject to public licensing and registration requirements, and that said vehicles are generally held out to public view in a way different than that of traditional dwellings.
Four Oakland, California police officers were fatally shot on March 21, 2009, by Lovelle Mixon, a convicted felon wanted on a no-bail warrant for a parole violation, who had also committed a series of violent rapes linked to him by DNA. Mixon shot and killed two Oakland police officers during a routine traffic stop. After escaping on foot to the nearby apartment of his sister, Mixon shot and killed two police SWAT team officers attempting to apprehend him. Mixon was killed as other officers on the team returned fire.
This was the deadliest attack on California police officers since the Newhall massacre in 1970, when four California Highway Patrol officers were shot and killed by two men in Santa Clarita. It was also the deadliest attack on U.S. law enforcement since the September 11 attacks. The killings of four police officers in Lakewood, Washington, in November 2009 equalled it; and both were surpassed by a mass shooting in Dallas, Texas, in July 2016 that killed five police officers.Arizona v. Johnson
Arizona v. Johnson, 555 U.S. 323 (2009), is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held, by unanimous decision, that police may conduct a pat down search of a passenger in an automobile that has been lawfully stopped for a minor traffic violation, provided the police reasonably suspect the passenger is armed and dangerous.Brendlin v. California
Brendlin v. California, 551 U.S. 249 (2007), was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States that held that all occupants of a car are "seized" for purposes of the Fourth Amendment during a traffic stop, not just the driver.Caren Turner
Caren Zeldie Turner (born July 4, 1957) is a former United States Democratic lobbyist and former commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey who received damaging international media attention in 2018 after a video was released showing her berating police officers at a traffic stop, posturing in an aggressive and condescending manner, and announcing she was a "friend of the mayor." The former commissioner is also a political consultant and the founder and CEO of Turner Government & Public Affairs, a government affairs firm. She served on the Hillary Clinton national finance team and was a co-chairman of the Financial Committee for Ready for Hillary, a super political action committee created to draft Clinton for the 2016 United States Presidential Election. Turner has been featured on Fox Business as a correspondent on Washington lobbying. As a political consultant she has worked for companies that manufacture parts for Lockheed Martin fighter jets. She was an attorney with Potomac Law Group and a former adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.Death of Sandra Bland
Sandra Bland was a 28-year-old African-American woman who was found hanged in a jail cell in Waller County, Texas, on July 13, 2015, three days after being arrested during a traffic stop. Her death was ruled a suicide. It was followed by protests against her arrest, disputing the cause of death, and alleging racial violence against her.Bland was pulled over for a traffic violation on July 10 by State Trooper Brian Encinia. The exchange escalated, resulting in Bland's arrest and charge for assaulting a police officer. The arrest was partially recorded by Encinia's dashcam, by a bystander's cell phone and Bland's own cell phone. After authorities reviewed the dashcam footage, Encinia was placed on administrative leave for failing to follow proper traffic stop procedures.Texas authorities and the FBI conducted an investigation into Bland's death and determined the Waller County jail did not follow required policies, including time checks on inmates and ensuring that employees had completed required mental health training.In December 2015, a grand jury declined to indict the county sheriff and jail staff for a felony relating to Bland's death. In January 2016, Encinia was indicted for perjury for making false statements about the circumstances surrounding Bland's arrest and he was subsequently fired by the Texas Department of Public Safety. In September 2016, Bland's mother settled a wrongful death lawsuit against the county jail and police department for $1.9 million and some procedural changes. In June 2017, the perjury charge against Encinia was dropped in return for his agreement to permanently end his law enforcement career.Heien v. North Carolina
Heien v. North Carolina, 574 U.S. ___ (2014), is a decision by the United States Supreme Court, ruling that a police officer's reasonable mistake of law can provide the individualized suspicion required by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution to justify a traffic stop. The Court delivered its ruling on December 15, 2014.Illinois v. Caballes
Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S. 405 (2005), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that the Fourth Amendment is not violated when the use of a drug-sniffing dog during a routine traffic stop does not unreasonably prolong the length of the stop.Navarette v. California
Navarette v. California, 572 U.S. 393 (2014), was a case in which the United States Supreme Court clarified when police officers may make arrests or conduct temporary detentions based on information provided by anonymous tips. In 2008, police in California received a 911 call that a pickup truck was driving recklessly along a rural highway. Officers spotted a truck matching the description provided in the 911 call and followed the truck for five minutes, but did not observe any suspicious behavior. Nevertheless, officers conducted a traffic stop and discovered 30 pounds (14 kg) of marijuana in the truck. At trial, the occupants of the car argued that the traffic stop violated the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, because the tip was unreliable, and officers did not personally observe criminal activity. Writing for a majority of the Court, Justice Clarence Thomas held that the 911 call was reliable, and that officers need not personally observe criminal activity when acting upon information provided by an anonymous 911 call.
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a "scathing" dissenting opinion, in which he argued that the tip was unreliable, and that the majority's opinion threatened the freedom and liberty of all citizens. Likewise, many commentators have noted Navarette represented a departure from earlier precedent, and that the opinion opened the door for expansive new police powers. Some commentators have also noted that the case leaves open several important questions, including the unanswered question of whether anonymous reports of extremely dangerous behavior require fewer indicia of reliability before police may act upon those reports. Other scholars have argued it was highly unlikely that Lorenzo and Jose Prado Navarette were actually driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol when they were stopped by police.Pennsylvania v. Mimms
Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106 (1977), is a United States Supreme Court criminal law decision holding that a police officer ordering a person out of a car following a traffic stop and conducting a pat-down to check for weapons did not violate the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.Police impersonation
Police impersonation is an act of falsely portraying oneself as a member of the police, for the purpose of deception. In the vast majority of countries, the practice is illegal and carries a custodial sentence.
Impersonating a police officer is sometimes committed in order to assert police-like authority in order to commit a crime. Posing as a police officer enables the offender to legitimize the appearance of an illegal act, such as: burglary, making a traffic stop, or detaining a citizen without resistance.
Dressing up as a police officer in costume (e.g. for Halloween), or pretending to be a police officer for the entertainment purposes or a harmless prank toward an acquaintance is generally not considered a crime, provided that those involved recognize the imposter is not a real police officer, and the imposter is not trying to deceive those involved into thinking they are. Nevertheless, replica police uniforms sold in the UK must not be identical to the uniforms currently used by the police, and traders have been jailed in the past for selling on genuine uniformsThe following impersonations class as the offence:
Verbal identification: The imposter announces to the unsuspecting victim that they are a police officer or other law enforcement agent.
Fake Badge or Warrant card: The imposter, though not in any special clothes, displays a police-like badge or identification card to the victim. Sometimes, even a real police officer will not even be able to differentiate between the real and fake badge, as some duplicates are very similar to a real badge, if not identical to one. This is much more of a problem in the USA than in the UK, as in the UK, police identification includes photographic ID as well as the police shield, whereas in the USA, a police shield alone counts as ID, making it easier for people to pretend to be police officers.
Fake uniform: The imposter wears a uniform that looks very much like that of a police officer.
Fake vehicle: The imposter places police lights (these can be either permanently mounted onto the car or temporary lights magnetically attached to the cartop), decals, siren, or other equipment on a personal vehicle to disguise it as a police car and enable the offender to pass through red traffic lights, bypass traffic other non-emergency traffic would have to wait for, make traffic stops, or even arrests.Much of the equipment described above is available for purchase by the general public, thereby enabling imposters to obtain the necessary materials to commit such a crime. While the equipment will not bear the name of a specific law enforcement agency, the unsuspecting victim may not notice the difference.
In an extreme case, a Hempstead, New York man named William Reid Johnson, who now lives in Granby, MO set up a fake police station in addition to the above, where he interrogated those he arrested.Some of the following crimes have been committed while impersonating a police officer:
Home invasion, by gaining entry under the guise of a police officer, followed by theft from the premises, rape, torture, or in rare cases, murder.
Theft and motor vehicle theft - approaching a victim, explaining that an item or a vehicle is stolen. The impersonator will then seize the "evidence" and never return it.
Armed robbery, following a traffic stop
Kidnapping following a traffic stop or false arrest
Fake authority, in which the officer attempts to extort money from the victim, claiming it is a fine, or can be paid on the spot to avoid further legal consequences.
Prank phone calls and other fraudulent / deceptive electronic communications, where one might make a comment about a group that invites retaliation.Reasonable suspicion
Reasonable suspicion is a legal standard of proof in United States law that is less than probable cause, the legal standard for arrests and warrants, but more than an "inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or 'hunch'"; it must be based on "specific and articulable facts", "taken together with rational inferences from those facts", and the suspicion must be associated with the specific individual. If police additionally have reasonable suspicion that a person so detained is armed and dangerous, they may "frisk" the person for weapons, but not for contraband like drugs. However, if the police develop probable cause during a weapons frisk (by feeling something that could be a weapon or contraband, for example), they can then search you. Reasonable suspicion is evaluated using the "reasonable person" or "reasonable officer" standard, in which said person in the same circumstances could reasonably suspect a person has been, is, or is about to be engaged in criminal activity; it depends upon the totality of circumstances, and can result from a combination of particular facts, even if each is individually innocuous.Rodriguez v. United States
Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. ___ (2015), was a United States Supreme Court case which analyzed whether police officers may extend the length of a traffic stop to conduct a search with a trained detection dog. In a 6–3 opinion, the Court held that officers may not extend the length of a traffic stop to conduct a dog sniff unrelated to the original purpose of the stop. However, the Court remanded the case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit to determine whether the officer's extension of the traffic stop was independently justified by reasonable suspicion. Some analysts have suggested that the Court's decision to limit police authority was influenced by ongoing protests in Ferguson, Missouri.School bus traffic stop laws
School bus stop laws are laws dictating what a motorist must do in the vicinity of a bus stop being used by a school bus or other bus, coach or minibus providing school transport.Shooting of Philando Castile
On July 6, 2016, Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black American, was pulled over while driving in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and killed by Jeronimo Yanez, a St. Anthony, Minnesota, Latino police officer. Castile had been driving a car at 9:00 pm with his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her four-year-old daughter when he was pulled over by Yanez and another officer in a suburb of Saint Paul, MN. After being asked for his license and registration, Castile had told Officer Yanez that he had a firearm, to which Yanez replied, "Don't reach for it then", and Castile said "I'm, I, I was reaching for..." Yanez said "Don't pull it out", Castile replied "I'm not pulling it out", and Reynolds said "He's not..." Yanez repeated "Don't pull it out" and then shot Castile seven times.The shooting achieved a high profile from a live-streamed video on Facebook made by Reynolds in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. In the video, she is talking with Yanez while a mortally injured Castile lies slumped over, moaning slightly and his left arm and side bloody. The Hennepin County Medical Examiner's office said that Castile had sustained multiple gunshot wounds and reported that he died at 9:37 p.m. in the Hennepin County Medical Center, about 20 minutes after being shot.On November 16, 2016, John Choi, the Ramsey County Attorney, announced that Yanez was being charged with three felonies: one count of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm. Choi said, "I would submit that no reasonable officer knowing, seeing, and hearing what Officer Yanez did at the time would have used deadly force under these circumstances." Yanez was acquitted of all charges on June 16, 2017. The same day, the City of Saint Anthony fired Yanez.Terry stop
A Terry stop in the United States allows the police to briefly detain a person based on reasonable suspicion of involvement in criminal activity. Reasonable suspicion is a lower standard than probable cause which is needed for arrest. When police stop and search a pedestrian, this is commonly known as a stop and frisk. When police stop an automobile, this is known as a traffic stop. If the police stop a motor vehicle on minor infringements in order to investigate other suspected criminal activity, this is known as a pretextual stop. Additional rules apply to stops that occur on a bus.There is a difference between one police officer stopping one individual, which is a tactical definition, and systematic promotion of this tactic on either the departmental or municipal level, which can damage police–community trust and lead to charges of racial profiling.
Although the Supreme Court has published many cases that define the intersection between policing and the Fourth Amendment in America, the U.S. Congress has not defined a baseline for police behavior. There has been some state action at both the legislative and judicial levels, and also some cities have passed laws on these issues. Except where noted, this article will primarily deal with these issues on a national level. Local and state laws may vary, but that is the exception and not the rule.Texas Highway Patrol
The Texas Highway Patrol is a division of the Texas Department of Public Safety and is the largest state-level law enforcement agency in the U.S. state of Texas. The patrol's primary duties are enforcement of state traffic laws and commercial vehicle regulation, but it is a fully empowered police agency with authority to enforce criminal law anywhere in the state. Highway patrol troopers are also responsible for patrolling the state Capitol Complex in Austin and providing security to the governor. The current Chief is Lieutenant Colonel Ron Joy.The highway patrol was founded in 1929 as the Highway Motor Patrol, the first statewide law enforcement agency in Texas since the establishment of the Texas Rangers in 1823, and the first such force to be uniformed and regularly trained. Since 1935, the agency has operated under its current name. Since its inception with just 60 officers, then known as "inspectors", the Texas Highway Patrol has grown to meet the increasing volume of vehicular traffic on Texas roads, modern security threats, and the requirements of twenty-first century policing, currently employing over 2,800 sworn troopers.
The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), and by extension the Highway Patrol, is Texas' de facto state police.Warning (traffic stop)
When a traffic stop is made, a warning issued by the officer is a statement that the motorist has committed some offense, but is being spared the actual citation. Officers use their own discretion whether to issue a citation or warning. The motorist may receive the warning either verbally or written, but will not be charged with the offense, will not have to pay a fine, and will not receive any points. Depending on the laws of the jurisdiction, the warning may or may not appear on records visible to officers, which, if it does, could result in another stop within a fixed period of time leading to an actual citation, or in some cases, the motorist may be charged with both offenses.
Officers see advantages of giving warnings as having less paperwork, enabling officers to use their time more efficiently, and reducing the likelihood that the officer will have to appear in court.Whren v. United States
Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806 (1996), was a unanimous United States Supreme Court decision that "declared that any traffic offense committed by a driver was a legitimate legal basis for a stop."In an opinion authored by Antonin Scalia, the court held that a search and seizure is not a violation of the Fourth Amendment in cases where the police officers have a "reasonable suspicion" that a traffic violation has occurred. The personal, or subjective, motives of an officer are not a factor in the Court's Fourth Amendment analysis of whether the cause for a stop is sufficient. The standard for reasonable suspicion is purely an objective one.A main concern with this case is that police conducting traffic stops may profile based on race. It also interprets the Fourth Amendment. Both petitioners believe that the traffic stop did not warrant a search of their vehicle and their arrest. Similar to the complaints and outrage about New York City's Stop and Frisk program, some believe that the ruling in Whren v. United States will lead to an increase in racial profiling towards young African American males.
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